Joseph Williams reflects on Toto and how his love of music has evolved
Joseph Williams has been immersed in music for as long as he can remember. His mom Barbara Ruick was a singer and an actress. His dad John Williams has produced some of the most iconic film scores in history. Joseph Williams joined the historic band Toto as a lead singer in the mid 1980's. After two albums, he left the band to pursue other creative outlets but has been back with Toto for almost 15 years. Here on Music Journeys, Williams talks about how his love of music evolved, his time with Toto, his own experience in composing, solo material and more. Thanks for listening.
Joseph Williams puts Pamela among the most meaningful music he's been a part of with Toto. It's the opening track from 1988's The Seventh One, the second album with the band featuring Williams on lead vocals.
"In late 1985 or 86, I showed up at the rehearsal studio the band used," Williams recalled. "I was friends with many of them before coming into that room. It was a great evening. I thought I might have a shot but it took a week or so before they let me know. Any chance to co-write something with David Paich is a real privilege. When I finally did join the band, the opportunity to write with him was probably the most special thing."
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"My earliest memories in life are of music going on in the house," Williams said. "My father's piano playing. My mother was a singer, so she would be singing all the time. My dad is working in the other room. The sound of a piano being played and pencils being sharpened are my very clear memories from when I was really little."
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"I was born in Santa Monica, California," Williams continued. "Lived in Encino for the first 8 years, and then my father moved us to London for a few years which was great since we're talking 1969, 1970. It was a crazy time to be there. I was a ten-year-old going to an English school and exposed to a whole different music scene over there. My mother unfortunately passed away when I was young. I didn't get a chance to know her as much as my dad. His advice has always been the same. Find focus and discipline on something, and you're bound to persevere."
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After singing lead on most of the tracks for Toto albums Fahrenheit and The Seventh One, Williams left the band to try another creative outlet.
"It was a seismic shift in my life," Williams said of the transition. "I really didn't have any training to be a singer and working on the road was extremely difficult. Back in those days, the band had many issues with singers, and it wasn't hard to let one go. For me, I just felt like I should explore another area of music. So I did 15 to 16 years of television composing on short films and low budget films and raised kids. I just started down a different path, always remaining friends with the guys in the band. In 1999, I joined them for a short tour promoting Toto XX. I came back in 2005 or '06 for a lead vocal on a Toto album and background vocals and a couple tours and then back in 2009. So the pattern was that the tv stuff was burning me out a little bit and thankfully the opportunity to get back on stage with the guys showed itself again."
Williams remains grateful for the time it gave him at home.
"I'm so close to my kids because I had a job where I could do the work from home," Williams said. "A huge blessing to have had that time. I'm a grandfather now with two grandchildren. I get as much of them as I can as my kids have their own lives. To tour around the country and scream and shout is a blessing."
"Toto has a few tunes caught in people's ears and over the years it's been handed down to different generations," Williams said of the band's longevity. "It's an incredible thing. David Paisch, the founding member of the group who gave us Africa and Rosanna. These songs get in your head and it's generational."
"I'm proud of a song called A Thousand Years on the 7th album," Williams continued. "I brought it to the table outside of the group. It was finished by Toto, but I started it with my brother."
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Outside of Toto, he's especially proud of his solo work. His most recent release came in 2021 with Denizen Tenant and the signature song Never Saw You Coming.
"That song gives you a great sense of where I'm at musically aside from my position in Toto," Williams said of the track.
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"Doing a solo project, you're only responsible to yourself for progress and how you want it to sound," Williams said. "It's just a different animal than working with a band, and I love both. But every once in a while, you just want to retreat and put something together."
At 91, his father John became the oldest person to be nominated for an Academy Award and has more than 50 Oscar nominations. Williams described attempting to live in his father's world of composing as unbelievably hard work.
"I wanted to learn and see if I could do it," Williams said of film scoring. "I'm not the musical scholar my father is. He started playing piano and studying music before he learned to read and write English. but I grew up in his house and felt I had an ear for it. When the technology came around, I thought I would try. I found it fun and rewarding and very hard."
Williams earned his own award nomination in 2003 for the TV series Miracles in the Emmy category of "Outstanding Main Title Theme Music." And whether it's touring with Toto, collaborating with other musicians, or his own solo projects, music remains what he leans on the most.
"It's life blood," Williams said of music. "It's been a part of my being since I was born, almost like a second language. It helps buff off the edges of the harsh realities in the world and illuminates the more beautiful ones."
Toto performs Saturday March 18 at the Midland Theatre in Newark.
Learn more about Joseph Williams